It was 2001.
I was in a dusty town in Venezuela, sitting on small bus that would take my companion and me to an incredibly poor part of town that rested atop a plateau. The bus was crowded, filled with laborers coming home from working in the main part of Guarenas.
Guarenas wasn’t a beautiful town. There was a joke in the mission about Guarenas. It went something like this: if Guarenas is the butthole of the state of Miranda, and Miranda is the butthole of Venezuela, and Venezuela is the butthole of South America, and South America is the butthole of planet earth, and planet earth is the butthole of this Universe, where exactly does that put me?
(Note: I don’t actually believe that about any of those locations. It was just a joke I heard. Please don’t harass me with your love of Latin America. I love it too.)
I remember feeling tired this afternoon.
The sun, as always, was blazing. I felt sweaty and hot, but I had just eaten dinner, and so I felt ready to tackle the evening of visits. To pass the time, I took my copy of Talmage’s Jesus the Christ from my scripture bag and sat there, on that bus, amongst a throng of chattering Venezuelans, reading about our Savior.
I was almost done with the book. I was reading about the aftermath of the crucifixion–that great and dreadful act. Jesus was with his apostles again–which they could hardly believe. Some of them didn’t believe. Famous Thomas would not believe the first hand account of the other apostles. He refused to have faith. He wanted proof before he would believe, for which he was rebuked.
And then I read something I had always known. I read of Jesus eating. Of Christ, after death–after hanging on the cross, being pierced, and being buried for three entire days–taking a piece of honeycomb and fish, putting it in his mouth, and eating it. People saw this happen.
At this moment, something totally unexpected happened to me. I knew it was true. I won’t bother to attempt to describe the internal machinations that confirmed this reality in my body and soul mind–just know that it was incredibly powerful, like nothing I had ever before (or since) felt. But I knew it.
I had pleaded for a spiritual witness about Christ for many years. As a gay kid, I was always very interested in the atonement. Was Christ’s sacrifice real? Was there really a balm in Gilead? Something to soothe the pain and heal wounds? I always expected that, if I were ever privileged to feel a witness of the Savior, it would be about the Great Sacrifice. I would know of the drops of blood shed for me. I would know, and feel, the confirmation that that transformative expiation had occurred, and it would be a glorious and profound moment of insight, probably while I was praying at my bedside, poised in perfect Mormonad picture positioning.
I never expected to receive a witness of the resurrection. That had always felt like some kind of foregone conclusion. “Oh, right, and then of course He came back to life and stuff…” Yet as I sat there being jostled by a bus, hearing the staccato of Caribbean Spanish all around me, feeling my own sweat in the hot sun, cramped on a small seat next to my companion, reading a tattered paperback, for some reason, this was the moment in which the Holy Ghost powerfully imprinted upon my heart and soul a witness about Jesus Christ and his reality: that He lived. Right then. In that very instant. In the flesh.
The resurrection had actually happened! And that meant that He was alive!
I said nothing to my companion about what had just happened to me. I carried it in my heart. And it has always remained with me as one of those moments–one of those key memories that even when all else feels compromised–even in those rare occasions when all else has felt tinged with doubt and skepticism, at least I know this: that one afternoon in Venezuela, God told me in my heart and my mind and my whole body with great intensity that His son died and then literally came back to life.
I know it. And I know God knows I know it. And I could not deny it.
Happy Easter, everyone.